Is Remote Work More Stressful than Office Work?
- The rapid shift to work from home has caused stress levels to increase among a sizeable share of employees.
- Remote work might be stressful due to factors such as a higher degree of autonomy, reduced social interaction, and sudden changes in routine.
- At the same time, remote work has increased the productivity of employees. Among the reasons for this is less time wasted on commuting, fewer breaks during working time, and fewer distractions out of office.
The transition from traditional office to remote operations hasn’t been smooth for everyone. Research into remote work has found that it actually increases productivity (more below), but many will also agree that some aspects of remote employment are stressful.
Read on to find out how exactly this is the case.
Why Remote Work Might Be Stressful
Mental health among remote workers has been studied quite substantially – both before and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the most notable studies of this topic have been carried out by the International Labour Organization (ILO, a United Nations agency) in 2017 and Qualtrics in April 2020.
All in all, based on the findings of these studies and our own intuition, remote work might be more stressful than office work because of:
- Tech-related issues. Switching to home offices, many people had to tackle corporate software installation and setup for the very first time. Less tech-savvy users often struggle with such new tasks.
- Increased delays. Receiving assistance and guidance over the web implies some delays – since employees are no longer working within a shared physical environment, their activities get out of sync and without access to the office there are fewer options for continuing productive work until help is received.
- Higher degree of autonomy. Remote workers have a higher degree of autonomy at their home offices. Without direct supervision, workers need to make some decisions on their own, which adds a degree of unseen stress to their daily operations.
- Missing the camaraderie. Some employees miss the social aspect of on-premises operations. Not only do humans need to socialise with each other but interacting with their peers helps distract employees from their day-to-day issues.
- No breaks from home issues. For some people, their workplace may be a sanctuary from stressful home life. By blurring the boundaries between life and work, remote work takes away the breathing space that employees may desperately need.
- Constant working. Remote work is often associated with longer working hours and constant availability for assignments. This could mean that remote workers don’t ever truly get a chance to rest from their jobs.
- Changes in routine. Initially, changes in routine and the need to handle travel differently may stress some workers out.
According to the ILO, 41% of mobile remote workers – that is, people working from various locations, not just their homes – feel stressed most of the time, whereas about 22% feel “always stressed”. For comparison, only about 25% of office workers feel stressed most of the time, and between 8-9% are always stressed.
For regular home-based work, about 31% of employees feel stressed most of the time, and about 13% are always stressed. And among occasional remote workers, the stress rates are about 33% and 11% respectively.
Qualtrics shares that 44.4% of remote workers have experienced mental health deterioration since the COVID-19 outbreak. In fact, all echelons of employees have been impacted – C-level employees (40.5%), managers (40.1%), and individual contributors (44%).
The Undeniable Benefits of Remote Work
The rapid shift to remote operations has been stressful for both employees and employers. For those who strongly prefer direct supervision and interaction with their peers, remote work may seem daunting even months after a transition.
Still, remote work undeniably has some significant advantages over traditional office work. First and foremost, this pertains to productivity.
Hubstaff – a producer of staff monitoring software – shares a few interesting stats on the productivity of remote workers:
- Remote teams tend to perform better. A 2013 study by Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom and other scholars found that working from home increased performance by 13% over 9 months.
- 65% of workers report that they feel more productive out of the office.
- 86% of employees who have been productive while working remotely rate their productivity either good or excellent.
- 76% of remote workers claim that they’re more productive thanks to fewer distractions, while 62% attribute the increased productivity to a quieter work environment.
- When remote workers get sick, they are likely to continue working anyway.
- Remote workers put in an extra 1.4 days of work more than office workers every month.
Aside from these, we can point out the following benefits of remote operation:
- Flexible start and stop times. You may choose when to start working and when to take a break. In fact, according to the ILO, remote workers find it easier to take time off during working hours than office workers. 75% of men and 72% of women working from home reported that taking a break is “very” or “fairly” easy, whereas for office workers, the rates were 62% and 57% respectively.
- No need to travel. Remote workers do not need to travel to carry out their duties. The reduced need to travel is convenient by itself, but it may also increase employee productivity. The ILO cites a French study that has found out that remote workers work more due to the reduced time spent on commuting to and from work (an average of 1.38 hours).
- More time with family. Remote workers get to spend much more time with their families. According to the ILO, 38% of men and women working from home found that their working hours fit their family or social commitments very well – versus 28% of male and 30% of female office workers.
- Access to all the necessary toolsets. On top of the previous benefits, modern technology allows employees to get access to their tools no matter where they are.
How to manage the stress
Check out this guide to reducing the stress of working at home and avoiding potential security threats.
Remote Work is likely to stay beyond 2021
Remote work has both positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, the rapid changes in one’s work environment and increased autonomy may cause stress – on the other, workers gain more control over their schedules.
Computer One has witnessed a mass exodus of employees from offices. Not everybody will come back even after the pandemic ends. Only 12% of people want to return to office work as they knew it before, while 72% want a hybrid model combining office and remote operations.
In the new work dynamic, work will be defined by what employees do, not by where they are.